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Dear Highlights: What adults can learn from 75 years of letters and conversations with kids

Listen to the podcast on Inkandescent Radio Dear Highlights: What Adults Can Learn from 75 years of Letters and Conversations with Kids

This 335-page book is packed with exchanges between children and Highlights editor Christine Cully from letters about school and friendship to self-improvement and societal concerns.

By Christine Cully, Editor in Chief and Chief Purpose Officer, Highlights for Children magazine.

Come with me and take a unique, inside look at American childhood through the conversations between Highlights magazine and its young readers and a call to grown-ups to make time to listen to the children in their lives actively.

Every year, tens of thousands of children write to Highlights magazine, sharing their hopes and dreams, worries and concerns, as if they were writing to a trusted friend. From the beginning, the editors at Highlights magazine have answered every child individually.

I have curated a collection of this remarkable correspondence (letters, emails, drawings, and poems) in Dear Highlights, revealing an intimate and inspiring 75-year conversation between America’s children and its leading children’s magazine.

From the timeless, everyday concerns of friendship, family, and school, to the deeper issues of identity, sexuality, divorce, and grief, here is a unique time capsule of American childhood in the voices–and the very handwriting–of children themselves.

The book captures a child’s-eye view of some of the most important events of the past 75 years: the COVID-19 pandemic, 9/11, the Challenger Disaster, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cully’s insightful narrative becomes a call to action for adults to lean in and listen to children, to make sure our kids know that they matter and what they think matters, and to assure them that they have the power to become people who change the world.

By turns funny, heartbreaking, moving, and enlightening, Dear Highlights will cause readers to reflect, listen, and embrace the children in their lives.

From the foreword by nationally syndicated columnist Amy Dickinson: “In times of great stress or trouble, Mr. Rogers advised children: ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ That’s exactly what children writing to ‘Dear Highlights’ find when they put pen to paper: helpers whose open-minded trust and kindness surely have made our world a better place.”

Scroll down for a few excerpts from the book!

About Christine Cully

In her dual role as Chief Purpose Officer and Editor in Chief, Christine French Cully provides strategic, ongoing oversight for developing the Highlights vision and brand across all markets and channels. As Chief Purpose Officer, she focuses on growing awareness and implementing the Highlights purpose, core beliefs, and values—to help actualize the organization’s vision for a world where all children can become people who can change the world for the better. As Editor in Chief, she is the chief steward of the company’s guiding editorial principles. She is responsible for ensuring that the products and experiences the company develops are aligned with Highlights’ mission.

Cully serves as a brand ambassador through writing and speaking engagements and focuses on fostering relationships with mission-aligned organizations, companies, and individuals and creating ways to share Highlights’ vision for the world more broadly.

After 15 years in children’s publishing, Cully joined the company’s flagship magazine Highlights in 1994 and served as its editor from 2004 to 2012. Under her leadership, the company launched three additional titles: Highlights High Five and High Five Bilingüe for preschoolers and Highlights Hello for babies and toddlers. She also oversaw the editorial teams that produced seven continuity book clubs, an extensive list of Highlights branded books found in retail and online, several digital apps, and two podcasts, one for children and one for grown-ups.

In 2011, she was also named an executive vice president of the Highlights Corporation. She is only the fourth editor in chief who has led the company during its 75-year history.

Cully is the mother of a grown son and daughter, and she lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Excerpts from “Dear Highlights: What adults can learn from 75 years of letters and conversations with kids.”

This 335-page book is packed with exchanges between children and Highlights editor Christine Cully from letters about school and friendship to self-improvement and societal concerns.

Each exchange is touching, insightful, and revealing about what kids are thinking and feeling.

On page 172, Devorah writes: Dear Highlights, I want to start a bread business, but I don’t know-how. My parents say I need to buy my own things for baking, such as flour, yeast, and other things. It sounds like a lot of money. Please help!

Highlights respond: Dear Devorah, You sound like an ambitious person! It’s true that starting and running a business can be expensive. Perhaps it would help if you sit down with your parents and make a list of things you would need an estimate of their cost. Once you do this, you’ll have a better idea of just how much money you’ll need. Many entrepreneurs (people who start their own businesses) earn money for their start-up costs by doing other jobs. With your parents’ permission, you might offer to do some jobs, such as vacuuming, sweeping, dusting, helping with yard work, and so on, for close neighbors or relatives. If there is a friend or relative near you who has young children, you might offer to play with the children while their parents do other work around the house. Of course, you will need to speak to your parents about this idea first. You might ask your friends for ideas, too. You can also ask a librarian to recommend books about kids who have started their own businesses: best wishes — and happy baking. 

On page 248, Kiara writes: Dear Highlights, People make fun of me because I’m Chinese/Japanese. They quint their eyes to mock me and always say, ‘Why are you closing your eyes? in pictures.’ People say I’m ugly. Sometimes I feel like I could be of a different nationality. What do I do?

Highlights responds: Dear Kiara, We’re so sorry to hear that people are making these ridiculous comments. We hear from many kids who get teased, so you are not alone. We hope you understand that when people make comments like this, it reflects poorly only on those people—not you! Please try not to let their comments affect the way you feel about yourself. You are a unique and precious person, and the fact that we’re all different is a big part of what makes the world interesting and beautiful. When readers write to us about teasing and bullying, we often suggest that the best response is to ignore the comments completely. Usually, teasers are trying to get a reaction, and the more you react, the more satisfying it is to them. However, if it seems appropriate, you could respond to a comment by saying, ‘You know, that’s disrespectful, and I’d appreciate it if you don’t talk like that.’ While the teasers might not change their behavior immediately, they may think about what you said. It’s important to talk to your parents about the way you’re feeling. Your parents love you and want to know when you’re unhappy, and they’ll probably have thoughts, which will help. You could also talk to another adult you trust, such as a relative, a teacher, a school counselor, or a clergyperson, if you attend religious services.

On page 300, Rachel, 9, writes: My dad died. Nothing feels right around our house. Nothing feels the same. Every time I do something, I realize that I did it with my dad. These pains are coming on me harder than I thought. 

Highlights responds: Dear Rachel, We are very sorry that your dad died. It takes a long time for family members to get over the loss of a loved one. Things will never go back to being the way they were—that would be impossible. But in time, the pain you are feeling now and the constant thoughts of your father will lessen, and you will once again be able to enjoy yourself and your home. We think you are taking a step in the right direction when you write down your feelings, as you did in your letter to us. Writing your thoughts, especially when we are sad or upset, seems to have a healing effect. You might consider writing about the good memories you have of your father and the things you did together. Or you could just keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings as you go through the grieving process. If you keep writing in a notebook, you could write a dedication to your father on the inside cover, just as authors dedicate their books. One other thing that might help is to think of how your father would want you and your family to be right now. He would probably want you to all be miserable or go ahead with your lives and be the best people you can be? Think of what an honor that would be to him.

Click here to order: “Dear Highlights: What adults can learn from 75 years of letters and conversations with kids.”